Day 20: Unfinished Business

August 5th 2018: Lyell Fork – Tuolumne Meadows; 13 miles

It took me so long to write this final post because it took me this long to come to terms with what the following paragraphs are going to describe.  It should come as no surprise that I was not able to complete the trail in its entirety, as the Ferguson fire was not even close to being contained at this point.  More heartbroken I could not have been and it will take a very long time for me to accept the fact that 20 miles were left unconquered when I know full well I could have completed them.  But alas, here is it: my final day on the trail.

Last night was the first night on this entire journey where I was alone.  Granted there were nights when people weren’t nearby, but I at least knew there was someone within proximity of where I was staying.  Last night, however, I didn’t see a soul.  Which shocked me because I thought it was a pretty awesome campsite at a pretty awesome location! Right before Donahue pass going SOBO and right after the pass going NOBO.  Prime real estate! Well obviously I was wrong, or maybe the other hikers knew something I didn’t.  Because this was the worst night of the entire hike, and it wasn’t because I was alone.

Being alone didn’t bother me at all.  At this point, I think (I hope) I know what I’m doing when it comes to camp life.  I’m not worried about bears or things that go bump in the night, so I was actually looking forward to having a night completely devoid of human interaction.  But then the wind started.  And it didn’t stop.  Starting gently at 5pm, the wind soon picked up in gales and brought with it ash.  Thank God I set up my tent as soon as I got into camp, because with only 2 stakes (ultralight!) my tent surely would’ve blown away into the abyss.  To help out, I stayed in my tent to make sure with my weight and the weight of the pack, it wasn’t going to blow away.  I watched hikers come and go, wondering why they weren’t staying.  But like I said, I secretly hoped they would move on so I would have a night alone.

The wind got worse.  So much worse.  Because I was in a valley of sorts, it created a wind tunnel.  I could hear bad gusts coming up the valley 5 seconds before it would hit the tent.  Gave me plenty of time to prepare, not that any preparation would do any good!  The gusts must’ve been at least 60mph.  For the majority of the night, my tent was blown completely horizontal, right over my face.  Needless to say, I did not sleep very well.  I had visions in my head that the wind was so strong it would knock my bear canister over. Following the whatever law of whatever dynamics (physics wasn’t my strong suit), the canister would stay in motion until it met something that would stop it… and that would be a nearby stream. I was convinced that my bear can was gonna float away! Totally ridiculous. But I was in a heightened state of annoyance and sleep deprivation from the wind, so my brain wasn’t working so well. The only thing that would’ve made it worse would be rain.  Luckily the heavens didn’t open up on me, however, it did rain ash.  I wasn’t too surprised, considering how terribly smoky it was on Donahue and how low visibility was before I went in my tent.  Another nail in the coffin of my hopes of finishing the trail.

The wind didn’t die down until 6am the next morning, exactly when I wanted to wake up.  Good because I could break down camp in peace, but bad because it didn’t give me a chance to catch up on any semblance of sleep.  But knowing it was likely my last day, I didn’t need sleep.  Plus it’s all downhill to Tuolumne Meadows, so I could practically sleepwalk and be okay. And my bear canister took the wind beating well – it was still standing! The same cannot be said about my tent, however. The poles were bent from the wind. But with it already looking a bit long in the tooth, I personally think the bent poles add even more character to the old beloved Marmot tent.

Well I guess I was sleepwalking because I had a pretty bad fall down a steep decline heading down into the meadow in which I almost lost a Nalgene bottle and my pride. An older gentleman witnessed the fall and asked if I was alright.  I tried to brush it off like it was nothing, but it actually hurt quite a bit.  Nothing like a hard fall to wake you up in the morning!

As I continued the day’s hike, I took it all in.  I took more breaks and took in the views.  I also was super hungry which accounted for the majority of the breaks.  Leave it to the last day for my appetite to kick in full gear! I ate my entire day’s worth of food by 10am.  It felt so weird knowing that this was my last day on the trail.  I had a lot of teary moments, looking back on the struggles, pure joy, and breathtaking views I experienced on the trail.   I wasn’t ready for it to be over, especially cut short.  But I had no other option.

I saw a ton of people starting their SOBO journey.  With Tuolumne Meadows so close, I wasn’t surprised to run into so many fresh, bright eyed hikers who didn’t smell like weeks worth of BO.  They smiled happily and congratulated me on my journey.  I was happy for them and a little jealous that their journey was just beginning.  I ran into two older men and had a quick conversation with them before realizing one was wearing an ACA hat.  The ACA is the organization I used to ride the TransAm route and used their maps for the Pacific Coast Bike Route earlier this summer.  We talked about bike tours and how different it is from hiking.  Good to have a conversation about something other than the John Muir Trail!

When I arrived at the Tuolumne Meadows cut off trail, I ran into a ranger.  I asked him his honest opinion about Yosemite Valley opening tomorrow.  “Not a chance”, he said ,rather bluntly.  He also told me it wasn’t a smart idea to wait around optimistically to see if it’ll open in the next few days. He thought the valley would be closed for the entire season.  Though I wasn’t surprised by his response, it still killed me.  After we departed paths, I called my parents to tell them I’ll be coming home early.

When they answered, I couldn’t speak a word, phrase, or even a syllable.  I was crying hysterically, coming to the realization that this was real,  I was really forced to quit the trail.  They calmed me down and I was able to explain the situation.  After a few minutes on the phone, I saw something not far away come out of the woods.  “Oh my God it’s a bear!” “WHAT?!”, I heard my mom say (her worst fear is bears) “Get out of there!”.  I was only slightly alarmed, mainly because I had a pocket full of fruit snacks.  I hung up the phone, threw Big Booty Judy on my back, and walked to the wilderness center.  Mr. Bear followed along with me, keeping a good 40 feet between me and him.  He didn’t seem too concerned with my existence, so I tried to feign the same kind of indifference.  They can smell weakness, right?  Luckily I made it safely to the office.

There I figured out with the help of my parents how to get home.  I was going to take a 4:30pm bus from Tuolumne Meadows to Lee Vining, then take a bus in the morning from Lee Vining to Reno for a flight home.  While waiting for the bus to Lee Vining, I ran into Paul and Jeff, brothers from Seattle who completed the trail a few days ago.  They waited around to see if the valley would open, but gave up after a few days.  Paul was going to Reno to fly home, however, Jeff was sticking around because his truck was parked in Yosemite Valley.  Being retired and just recently widowed, he had plenty of time to wait for the valley to open.  Both were very nice guys and I enjoyed talking with them and getting to know them.  Finally the bus arrived and off I went for the journey home.

Lee Vining is a tiny town, but was a perfect place to stop for the night.  Paul and I waited for the ESTA bus (late as usual) and we were shocked by what came to pick us up.  It was an bus full of hikers from Mammoth who had to cut their journey short.  When I say it was full, I mean it.  Getting our bags to fit was an exercise in Tetris and patience.  There were no seats left on the bus, so Paul and I were forced to sit on the floor.  On a bus full of young, able bodied men, you would think one or two would offer their seat to a woman OR an older man, but nope.  The art of chivalry and manners was lost on my generation.

Eventually we made it to the airport where I had 7 hours to my flight.  I don’t even remember what I did to pass the time, I was so bored.  When I finally could check my bag, I didn’t have full confidence the woman who tagged my bag knew what she was doing.  I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be the last time I would see BB Judy.  My fears were justified because when I landed in Philly, Judy was no where to be seen.  Frontier’s baggage representative reassured me that she would be delivered within 24 hours.  She arrived at 1:30am missing one trekking pole.  Another reason to not fly Frontier in my opinion.

But I was home.  Not on my own terms, but here anyway.  Seeing my family and Addie was great, but would’ve been greater had I completed the trail.

I will follow up with one last final post soon reflecting on my experience.  Over a month later, I’m still digesting what I experienced and the feelings I have being home and returning to work.

Day 19: Coming to Terms

August 4th 2018; Rosalie Lake – Lyell Fork; 16.3 Miles

Last night was the first night on this entire trek that I was actually cold.  Honestly, I can’t complain, especially when I though I’d be cold every single night.  I woke up still half frozen to a beautiful sight – no smoke!  It was perfectly clear. Hope pumped through my veins warming up my body.  Hope that maybe, just maybe, the fire is on its way  to being contained and that Yosemite really will open tomorrow. Fueled by this hope that my trip may not have to be cut short, I packed everything up and set out for today’s hike.

This morning, I passed nothing but lakes.  From Shadow, to Ruby, to Garnet, to Marie, it was nothing but lake after lake that I’ll never be able to keep straight.  Garnet and Thousand Island Lake were the big ones. And they were pretty darn stunning.  In fact, Thousand Island Lake is pretty infamous along the JMT.  Originally, we were going to stay there for a half day.  I scratched that plan last night.  Good thing. Cause only 8 miles from Rosalie Lake, I got there at 10:30am.  I would’ve been quite bored.  Plus a lot of people had the same idea of staying there and it was pretty packed.  Not my kind of scene.

Onward I went to Rush Creek, where I had planned to stay.  Getting there meant going over Island Pass.  Funny thing about Island Pass is you don’t even realize you’re going up it till you’re already over it and on the downhill!  It’s barely a bump in the trail and snuck right up on me, or maybe I snuck right up on it? Either way, it was an anti-climatic pass and as such did not yield any kind of view.

I got to Rush Creek shortly after 1pm.  Still feeling pretty good, I wanted to keep going because I was aware that tomorrow would’ve been a hard and long push to Tuolumne Meadows if I didn’t keep pushing.  So with the attitude of “why put off till tomorrow that which you can do today”, I tossed Judy onto my back and we marched onto Lyell Fork.  Only 4 miles away, it looked like a perfect little spot to stop.  Only problem was it was just past Donahue Pass.  At 11K’, I knew it would be considerably more difficult than Island Pass.  But then again, just about anything is more difficult than Island Pass.I had all the time in the world to get over it, so I wasn’t worried.  After the terrifying incident crossing Silver Pass in a lightning storm, I would prefer to avoid passes in the afternoon.  You just never know when a mega monsoon might rear its ugly head! However, the skies this afternoon were clear – clear of clouds and clear of smoke! Perfect.

During the climb, I had a little blimp of cell service and told my parents that the smoke was gone! Hooray! They don’t have to worry (my mom even sent a picture of Addie in a mask, no doubt showing support).  As soon as I lost reception, the winds picked up and guess what it blew in?! Within minutes, the canyon was full of thick smoke, obscuring any view of my surroundings.  Great. I’ve been looking forward to Donahue Pass for weeks and now I won’t be able to see anything! Oh well, life’s unfair sometimes.

With the wind and smoke and tired legs, the ascend up the pass wasn’t the most fun. But it at least went quickly.  I was officially in Yosemite!!  I got a little emotional at the top.  Donahue is the last pass of the JMT going NOBO, a pass I was certain I’d never get to see when I started.

I made it down to Lyell Fork at 4pm, very weary and glad to have made it.  As I was setting up my tent, it started to rain ash.  All hope I had in the morning was quickly, well, burning up and turning to ash.  I talked with two guys who started in Tuolumne Meadows that morning who had spoken with some rangers before they left.  They said that none of the rangers were optimistic about the park opening tomorrow.  In fact, many of them said they wouldn’t be surprised if it remained closed all season.  That’s when it hit me.  I’m likely going to have to quit tomorrow.  And that is also when I accepted it. I can’t push pas this.  I have to swallow my pride and let the universe have this win. Besides, I cried enough about it in Mammoth.

So it looks like I’ll be ending 20 miles shy of Happy Isles.  But, I already hiked these miles with my family a few years ago, so technically I will have hiked the whole JMT, just not in one shot.

I’m exhausted.  The wind is still kicking around and being annoying.  I have a feeling it’s going to be another cold night.  But it’s the last one so big whoop.  At this point, I can handle it.

Day 18: Take It Easy

August 3rd 2018: Mammoth > Rosalie Lake; 9 miles

I woke up to the sound of my alarm, ready and excited to get back on the trail.  Though I was glad to have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, the Hostel was loud and I missed the quiet comfort of my tent. In fact, I got better sleep in my tent than I did in the hostel!  I went downstairs to grab a quick breakfast and promptly left after getting into a slight altercation with a man who thought he was more entitled to my phone charger than I was.  After dropping out of the JMT due to smoke, he found himself low on battery charge and ordered me to let him use my cord because he forgot his.  I had overheard him telling another hiker how much of a big shot he is in DC, so I told him he could find a cord at the Rite Aid down the street… surely he could afford one there.  I grabbed Big Booty Judy and soon we found ourselves on the shuttle back to Red’s Resort.

On the bus I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only crazy person going NOBO directly int o the line of fire.  There were plenty of folks doing the same thing!  We got dropped off at 8:30am and I hiked with a group of guts from SoCal who were section hiking.  We passed by the famed Devil’s Postpile.  Not entirely sure what to expect, I was left minorly disappointed by the monument.  Really interesting looking, however, it was such a small geological feature that has accrued so much notoriety on the trail I was expecting a little more.  I stayed with the group until the JMT junction and we played leapfrog for the rest of the day.

Where I am camping tonight has been an issue of internal debate for the last couple of days.  Originally, I was supposed to stay at Rosalie Lake.  But that’s only 9 miles from Red’s Resort, and I wanted to go a little further to make it to Tuolumne by Sunday.  The problem with going further is there is no reliable water. Jen Warned me of that and gave the recommendation of staying at Rosalie Lake.  When I asked the guys their opinion, they agreed.  They told me to just take it easy, what’s the rush? I wasn’t sold until I actually got to the lake.  It’s beautiful, possibly my favorite late yet! I fell in love immediately and knew I had to stay here for the night.  I found the most perfect camping spot and an even better writing rock! The only problem is that it’s pretty windy and smoke is starting to settle right in the lake.

Speaking of smoke, all day it was a very ominous presence, causing an eerie feeling amongst the dead trees I’m still hiking through.  However, it hasn’t really bothered me or affected my breathing.  Someone at Red’s gave me an N95 mask, however, I haven’t had to use it yet.  And not that I’m really planning on using it – it makes breathing harder, especially when hiking uphill.

I was really tired today, (maybe it was all the blues at Bluesapalooza last night) so I wasn’t really bummed about calling it quits at 12:30pm today.  I had the whole afternoon to myself, save for a when the guys came over to inspect my campsite after seeing how much better mine was than theirs.  We had a nice conversation about their experiences in the Sierras.  I even taught them the thunder position, something they may find useful considering how many thunderstorms there have been out here.  They had never heard of it before and poked fun at me for even knowing what it was.  All in good fun.

Being in such an inspirational place has put me at peace, something I was definitely in need of after being in Mammoth.  I love it out here and am so sad to think that a week from now it’ll all be over.  I know once I get home I’ll be daydreaming about it out here, wishing I was back in it, despite all the adversity and hardship I have experienced.

The peace and quiet has been interrupted by a group of boys daring each other to jump in the frigid lake.  The air being filled with their screeches allows for some entertainment.  What’s not so entertaining is them urging each other to “just pee – you pee in the ocean, what’s the difference?”.  No – please don’t.  I’m pumping water from there later tonight.

With the smoke, the sun looks beyond spooky.  It look downright post-apocalyptic! After 5 pm it turns bright pink and you can look right at it.  The closest phenomenon I can compare it to is the solar eclipse.  It evokes the same kind of almost primal doomsday feeling.  I’ll be glad when I won’t have to deal with smoke anymore, I can definitely say that.

Day 16 & 17: And on the 17th Day, Emilie Said, “Let There Be Rest”

August 1st & 2nd 2018: Deer Creek > Red’s Meadow Resort; 5.5 miles > Mammoth

My poor weary body can rejoice! I’m writing this on a comfy chair in a hostel with a full belly of REAL food.  I haven’t had a 45 pound pack strapped to my back for over 24 hours and my legs feel fantastic! Although smoky and hot, this rest day in Mammoth was just what I needed.  However, I am getting a little itchy to get back on the trail tomorrow… it feels like cheating being off of it!

Yesterday I got to Red’s Resort right in time for breakfast.  The 5.5 miles there were easy, however, they were filled with devastation.  I walked through a forest of dead trees, likely dead for a while.  I’m unsure how they got that way (Edit: Lightning sparked fire in 2008), but there was an odd beauty to the destruction. As I descended into the resort, I saw the smoke that I had been warned about.  It made for hazy views into the meadow.  People coming up from the meadow were wearing N95 masks and complaining about how thick the smoke was down at the bottom and warned me to get out as soon as possible.  When I told them I was headed into Mammoth, they said that it wasn’t much better there.  Great!  Eventually I made it to Red’s (such a beautiful sight to see the sign!) and had a delicious – albeit pricey – breakfast.  Worth every cent.  Afterwards I picked up the resupply bucket and rooted through it to see what goodies I wanted to take along.  I gave most of it back because I still had too much food leftover from the MTR resupply and Marybeth had her resupply in the bucket as well.

I stuck around at Red’s for a while, talking with other hikers and just killing time since I didn’t have a plan for when I got into Mammoth.  Eventually I caught the shuttle into town and I checked into the Moderne Hostel.  I went around town to get supplies for a much needed shower.  Mammoth is not very pedestrian friendly.  Walking anywhere is putting your life on the line.  Luckily, however, the town offers free trolleys to you take to and from various points of interest.  Just simply hop on board and go to your destination worry free! I took the most amazing shower and for the first time in over 2 weeks I felt clean!  Plus now I won’t terrify Boy Scouts hiking the trail with my hairy legs – pretty sure I gave a few of them a decent fright as they passed by open mouth shocked by my legs – ha! I met the woman staying in the same room as me. Jen from Monterey (we bonded over their impressive farmer’s market) was hiking the JMT SOBO, but bailed out at Mammoth due to severe knee pain that started after coming down from Donahue Pass.  She was going to spend a few days here to see if it felt better, but after not being able to put any weight through it, she made the tough decision to drop out.  She was awesome to talk with and is a super friendly and sincere person.  Living in CA so close to the trail, she is planning on coming back out next year to attempt it with her 16 year old son.

Soon it was time to think about dinner. Someone who I had met on the TransAm suggested I go to Liberty Grill. It was right down the street and is owned by a Philly guy.  After looking them up online, I saw they had burgers and was immediately sold.  Though not entirely hungry, I still ordered and ate everything.  It was all gone quicker than I’d like to admit.  The poor people at the bar had to witness the pure savageness of me devouring that food. When I got the bill, I came to learn that Danny offered to pay for my meal! Thanks Danny!!

With an uncomfortably full belly, I went back to the hostel and immediately went to bed to sleep off the food coma.  At exactly 4am, I woke up and immediately regretted scarfing down all that fried greasy food.  I had a bad case of bubbly guts and practically fell off the top bunk in a rush to get to the bathroom.  Pretty sure I gave Jen quite a fright in my frantic rush.  I should’ve known this was going to happen – after 2 weeks of such bland foods, assaulting my stomach with a burger and fries was not a great idea.  But it tasted so good!!

In the morning I went to a coffee shop to try and figure out a game plan for getting to Yosemite amidst all these fires.  Mammoth is extremely smoky. In fact, I woke up to the smell of smoke this morning.  I know that a bunch of JMTers are either cutting their hike short or cancelling it altogether because of reports of smoke.  I began to question whether my bullheaded decision to try to push to Happy Isles was smart, or (more importantly) safe. Ultimately I came up with the conclusion that if the smoke gets too much to handle, I’ll just turn back and come home from Mammoth.

So the plan: get to Tuolumne Meadows by Sunday, when Yosemite is rumored to reopen.  If it opens, great! I’ll finish the hike in 2 days. If it doesn’t, I can camp out there for a few days till it does.  If I run out of time, I’ll find a way back into a town where I can catch public transportation to a major airport and fly home.  I is unclear whether or not YARTs is operational right now due to the fires.  If it is then it’s an easy ride into Mammoth. If it’s not, then I’ll just have to stick out my thumb and catch a ride into town with some generous stranger.

The prospect of potentially having to end this experience early is heartbreaking to me.  Even though it’s only 2 days worth of hiking, I wanted to finish more than anything in the world.  After having such a tough first week and not being sure if I would even make it past that, I would feel incomplete having to quit early when I know physically and mentally I am capable.  But with such a devastating fire rolling through such a beautiful place, it is completely selfish of me to think this way.  I hope the fire is contained soon, not only for my and other hiker’s benefits, but for the preservation of Yosemite and the safety of the firefighters working so hard to contain it.

With all my maps laid out on the table in the coffee shop and my dirty smelly ratty cloths,  I guess I gave off the hiker vibe.  A guy, Josh, recognized me as a JMT hiker immediately and struck up a conversation.  Being a photographer and having lived in Mammoth for some time now, he is very familiar with the Sierras and the JMT in particular. Seeing I was alone and likely bored, he invited me to Bluesapalooza with him and his friends, a yearly blues festival held right down the street from my hostel that apparently is the event of the year.  How lucky I was to stumble into town the exact weekend it’s being held! Having nothing better to do, I figured why not indulge in a little bit of Mammoth culture.

I’m so jealous of people who live in California.  All of Josh’s friends were talking about all the trails they have done and how easy it is for them to get a walk up permit for whenever they want to go camping out in the backcountry.  Not fair! It took me weeks of planning and stressing to get my permits! Oh well. Such is life.

After only being able to tolerate the Blues festival for an hour, I left to get some sleep.  I talked with Sheena on the phone and practically cried about how much I wish she was here with me for this hike! Oh well, next time!

Being back in civilization has made me want to get back on the trail ASAP.  It is such a weird feeling being in a town when you know you have unfinished business out in the wilderness to attend to.  I don’t like the feeling so I’m ready to hop on the first bus outta Mammoth tomorrow and get back to Red’s so I can (hopefully) finish this hike!

Day 14: Silver – Definitely Not Gold

July 30th 2018; Bear Ridge Junction – Somewhere Past Silver Pass: 14.6 miles

Oh what a day. I feel like I can start any of these entries with this phrase, but today was truly some sort of day.  I didn’t sleep well last night. With every noise pulling me out of whatever minimal state of unconsciousness I found myself in, I was jolted away with a fight or flight response.  Normally I’m fine sleeping in my tent, but last night was not one of those nights.  When I finally did doze off, my alarm went off at 4:45am – just in time for an early morning hike to VVR.  however, at the same time,  I saw that Marybeth had texted me on the Garmin.  She’s fine (hallelujah!) but won’t be meeting me at VVR.  I went back to sleep, content on skipping the holy grail of stops.  I wanted to get to Mammoth ASAP and a frivolous stop for a milkshake and a free beer didn’t exactly fit my plans.

The 5.5 miles to the VVR junction was all downhill. Aggressively so.  3 miles of it was rocky switchbacks.  I nearly fell 1/2 a dozen times getting down it.  If I was having that hard of a time going down, imagine the poor folks forced to go up it.  I passed nearly 20 of them, each one looking more miserable than the last.  I even waited for a mule train to pass.  I can’t believe these huge animals can navigate such narrow paths.  But thank God they do.

I had plenty of time to catch the ferry, however, like I said earlier, my drive to get to Mammoth by Wednesday fueled my drive to continue moving on.  That mean a 7 mile 3K’ climb over Silver Pass. Making sure Addie is okay was worth the torture I knew would ensue with this decision.

My whole body was sore and tired from overdoing it yesterday. I attacked this pass with a whole lot less tenacity than I did Selden Pass. I hated nearly every second of it.  I found excuses to stop every half an hour (well is refilling water really an excuse? It was hot I was drinking a ton of water!), making the climb take even longer.  I take back what I said yesterday about northern passes being gentle and gradual.  Leading up to Silver Pass was steep, ungodly so.  I suffered today, my friends.  But like all the other passes, the suffering eventually came to an end and I made it atop.  At 2pm, much later than I would’ve liked.  Although it wasn’t my favorite pass to get atop, it did yield one of my favorite views, even with the hazy smoke! At the top, I met Jeb, a fellow NOBO hiker who hiked the trail SOBO in 2016.  His pace is much faster than mine, so this is likely the only time I’ll run into him. He left and not soon after, so did I.  The rumbling of thunder was heard in the distance and soon rain fell from the sky. Being fully exposed on a pass, I knew I had to get down. Quickly.

I scurried down from the pass as quickly as my tired weary legs would allow.  I still had 2.8 miles to my camping spot and most of those miles were exposed. Not where I wanted to be when suddenly right in front of my face lightning danced across the sky.  With no option for shelter and honestly quite terrified, I went back to my grade school days and recited the rosary while practically running down the trail.  The lightning was nonstop and I couldn’t tell which thunder belonged to which lightning. Didn’t matter, all I knew was the lightning was way too close for comfort. It was just one constant symphony of thunder and I wasn’t too big a fan of the performance. In an otherwise completely safe situation, would’ve been beautiful, but unfortunately, that was not the situation I found myself in.  Soon my mad scramble down the mountain led to sporadic bunches of trees.  I went from tree to tree until I was safely below the treeline, where I soon found my home for the night. And a perfect home it is! Tucked under some big trees, I was able to set up my tent and stay dry! The storm lasted for about another hour before giving up.  And now the sun is shining, of course!

One this I’ve noticed since starting the solo journey is that people going the opposite direction are way more prone to starting a conversation in passing.  Not that it bothers me, it gives me a rest and distraction.  Plus most of the people are super nice and give me information about what’s happening up North with regards to the fires.

I’m only 20 miles away from Red’s Meadow Resort.  I’m planning on getting there tomorrow.  Just kidding! It’s a relatively easy 15 miles to a nice looking campground tomorrow – and rumor is there’s a spot a mile before this campground that has Verizon service.  I can call and make contact with family and friends!! Plus that makes Wednesday’s journey to Red’s Meadow a pretty easy 5 miles. Perfect!  Today was one of my toughest mental days.  With a fatigued body and brain, I’m pretty susceptible to my mind going negative.  I had a few tearful moments feeling sorry for myself, but got my act together pretty quickly.  No tears allowed on the trail!

Day 13: And Then There Was One…

July 29th, 2018; Florence Lake – Bear Ridge Junction: 16 Miles

Well, I survived by first day alone in the wilderness.  Marybeth made the hard decision to leave via Florence Lake to determine exactly what has her feeling so lousy. After a sad “see you later” – cause I have hope of her returning soon – I went long on my own.  It took 1.5 miles to get out of MTR territory and back on the trail.  That short distance was some of the toughest hiking yet!  Yesterday at the ranch, I overheard some guys going SOBO talking about their trek coming in. “May, I couldn’t imagine going NOBO outta here!” So at least I was semi prepared, but not enough! I was so glad to see the Selden Pass >” sign, indicating the end of that stretch. As soon as I got to that sign, I almost got trampled by two deer who I spooked.  Well, they spooked me too! Right before one was feet from plowing right into me, I let out the highest pitch shriek my body would allow.  That deer did not want to collide into something that made that kind of noise, so she last second changed course and left me alone. Phew. Now I could focus on the climb ahead of me. Like I mentioned last post, I had over 3K’ to make up in just a few miles.  The GPS elevation profile gave me an indication of what was in store.  Most of the elevation gain was in the first 2 miles. Rough, but it’s gotta happen! Good thing I was getting it over with first thing in the morning.

After the first few miles, things settled down and turned “flat”.  I enjoyed it until the last 1/2 of the pass.  But I gotta say, I’m a fan of going North, just because of the gentle grade of the passes this last half of the trip.  The way up going SOBO looks way more intimidating and less friendly.  But there is a trade off for these smaller elevation passes… less of a view.  And they only get smaller from here on out. I was spoiled by the grand views of Forester Pass. I’ll be daydreaming about those breathtaking views for the rest of my life.  Once atop Selden Pass, I spoke with some hikers and ate lunch.  Being exposed and in the sun,  I didn’t stay up there too long and set back down the pass.

Today, just after getting back on the trail, I observed complete sounds of nature.  Now I’ve experienced it before on this trip, plenty of times, but being by myself added to the magnitude of silence I was at that time listening to. While going up a set a switchbacks just before Selden Pass, it was early enough where I had the trail to myself.  The atmosphere was devoid of human made sounds. No airplanes, no cars, no music, no frivolous conversations, no clumsy feet or trekking poles accidentally kicking rocks (my specialty).  Just nature.  Once my heartbeat stopped drumming in my ears and I swatted all the mosquitoes and flies away, I was fully immersed by deafening nature.  The sound of the distant stream, the gentle breeze, the sing song chants of the birds flying amongst the clouds all put me at peace, just at time when peace was needed.  When surrounded in a world full of constant stimuli, it is beyond refreshing to experience a world so quiet and unadulterated, where humans have yet to fully inhabit.

Hiking such a trail in such wilderness alone is intimidating.  Though I’m confident in my abilityies to solo hike and I rarely go 15 minutes without seeing another human being, you can just not prepare for the unexpected.  Needless to day, the prospect kept me up last night (that and the fact that the campsite kinda creeped me out).  But there are signs out here that I’ll be just fine and that I actually am not truly alone.  My grandmother promised me that she’d be watching over me, keeping me safe.  She sent a sign (literally) today, of all days, that she was keeping that promise. I passed by Rose Lake Junction, and seeing as her name is Rose, I know it wasn’t just a coincidence! I know she’s up there, keeping a watchful eye, giving me confidence for the days to come.

Today was a long day. In fact, it was the longest mileage day yet! That because I got over be pass before 11:30am and felt great. I also want to try to get to VVR tomorrow early tomorrow for the 9:45am ferry.  By going further today, I only have 5 miles tomorrow to the ferry, making it easy to make that time.  Otherwise I’ll be waiting around until 4:45pm, no thanks!  Marybeth, if given the okay by the doctors, will likely meet me at VVR, so I’d rather get there early and just relax.  She’ll let me know by tonight.  If she isn’t able to make it to VVR, I’ll likely just skip it and head to Red’s Meadow.  Although VVR is a staple stop for JMT hikers and offers hot meals and free beer to hikers, I would rather push on.  More so than food and especially beer (yuck – at this altitude I’d be hungover for days), I’m craving communication with friends and family.  I need to make sure little Addie is okay!  The person who is sharing a campsite with me has a dog – ugh I might steal it for the night!

The smoke was the worst it’s been yet today.  As I learned on the Pacific Coast bike tour, winds out here tend to blow from the North down to the South.  Seeing as any of the fires are North of here, the wind is blowing the smoke right our way.  A cowboy leading a mule train told me, “howdy Ma’am, welcome to the most beautiful part of the trail!” News to me, I can’t see anything through the haze of the smoke!

I officially have less than 100 miles. And with 10 days to complete those miles in, I feel confident that I’ll be able to achieve my goal.  Unless, of course, something befalls me!

Day 12: Halfway Point!

July 28th, 2018; Evolution Creek Crossing – Florence Lake-ish Junction: 10 miles

We did it! Day 12! We officially are half way done hiking the John Muir Trail.  Again, not ready for this experience to be over, just grateful to have made it this far!

Marybeth woke up this morning feeling better – it’s a Christmas (in July) miracle! We got out relatively early and forded the Evolution Creek before 8am. Doing it early lessened our risk of being taken away by the strong current.  And was it strong. Coming just to below my shorts, I carefully treaded along the wide creek and made it to the other side safely, despite all the creek’s effort to do me in.  We had just under 9 miles to John Muir Rance, where we are resupplying for the second time. All downhill, we got there just around 1pm.

Unfortunately, smoke from the Yosemite fire (edit: This was actually smoke from a lightning caused fire just outside of Red’s Meadow – too many fires to keep up with!) caused the viewed to be hazy.  I really hope it gets cleaned up by the time we roll through! Even for unfortunate is that Marybeth started to feel bad again during the last mile push to the ranch.  It is extremely hot here, so I think that has a lot to do with it. Marybeth is also sick of food she packed – something I can relate to, I’m surviving purely on snacks on tuna.  After cooling down and stomaching some calories, we made it to the ranch. We were greeted pretty coldly, but we were warned. Muir Trail Ranch is notorious for being a little rude to hikers. Maybe it’s part of their “charm”? Regardless, their customer service leaves a lot to be desired, but I am pretty grateful they provide a resupply at all – that would leave a lot of hikers outta luck for food!

After picking up the bucket, we scoured the hiker buckets for any goodies other hiker’s left behind.  Because people tend to pack way too much food (I am included in that statistic), MTR places leftover or unwanted food in buckets for other hikers to rummage through.  In fact, there is so much leftover food that some people don’t even send their own bucket, but rely on the hiker buckets for their resupply.  A little too much of a risk if you ask me. There were slim pickings today, but I did score some new tuna pack flavors (I was way too excited for this) and some electrolyte drink mixes.  I also got rid of a lot of food that made my stomach churn just looking at it (peanut butter is awful on the trail). While waiting around – we stayed there four hours – we ran back into the sisters from a few days ago.  Again, they were behind schedule so they decided to exit at Red’s Meadow in a few days.  We also met a father and son who packed way too much food in their resupply and gave us their leftover Doritos and Fritos.  If you ever want to see hikers go manic, give them Doritos.  It no doubt resembled a pack of starved frantic seagulls going after an unsupervised bag of chips at the beach.

At the ranch, I got to weight Big Booty Judy – my lovely companion.  Knowing she is a pretty hefty girl (I have been getting snide comments about the size of my pack the entire trail), I was not at all surprised that she came in weighing a solid 45 pounds all loaded up with food and water.  The number made some of the other hikers cringe and judge.  Good thing they’re not the ones carrying her! You won’t hear me complain about the weight – I knew what I was getting myself into.

Because of Marybeth’s unpredictable symptoms, there was a lot of indecision as to where to stay that night. MTR is close to Florence Lake, a bail out spot for JMT hikers. The closest campsite was across a waist deep river requiring use of an overhead rope to ford.  I for one was not comfortable crossing with the pack.  With some Doritos in her system, Marybeth considered hiking 2 miles North to another campsite. However, that put us too far from the Florence Lake exit should she choose to leave in the morning. So we decided to start the hike to Florence Lake and just stealth camp. Which is what we are doing now.

Marybeth is leaning towards exiting tomorrow. If that’s the case, I’ll be continuing this journey solo (shhh… my parents don’t know yet).  She is planning on meeting back up in a couple days after being checked out by a doctor.  I’ll be taking her In-Reach to keep in contact with her.  The biggest problem for her will be finding transportation from Florence Lake to Fresno, the closest city.  Florence Lake Resort is pretty remote and doesn’t have public transportation.  There is a private shuttle that can be hired, but at $200 per ride, that is way too expensive.  Marybeth is going to rely on the good nature kindness of strangers and hope that people leaving the resort will give her a ride on their way to Fresno.  Being a Sunday, she might be in luck! One thing is certain, you cannot predict life on the JMT!

I’m pretty nervous for tomorrow.  We’re only at 7.5K’ elevation and have to get to 10.9K’ in a short distance to make it over Selden Pass! Yikes – should be an interesting undertaking alone.